Why Hillary Clinton's two-time presidential ambitions imploded


The glass ceiling remains intact.

For the second time, Hillary Clinton waged a historic campaign to become the first female president of the United States. For the second time, voters took a pass.

Clinton got closer this time: In 2008, Barack Obama stopped her in the Democratic primary, to the deep dismay of her fans. This year, she became the first woman to capture a major-party nomination for the White House.

But the former secretary of state, now 69, fell short of the mark, and the reason may be a complex combination of her personal history, the mood of the nation and tough timing.

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Eight years ago, Clinton was seen a smart-money bet — until a little-known but deeply persuasive freshman senator from Illinois electrified the nation and ultimately convinced voters to make history in a different way: sending the first black man, not the first woman, to the White House.

Clinton conceded, joined Obama's team as the nation's top diplomat and bided her time before returning to politics — and being foiled again by a billionaire businessman whose worldwide celebrity gave him an unparalleled platform to push an unabashedly nationalist agenda.

The very foundation of Clinton's argument for the presidency — her decades of experience in government and public life — may have been part of her undoing.

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"Americans have rejected the rehearsed, poll-tested rhetoric of career politicians and instead opted for a candidate who is plain-spoken and downright crass," said Jeff Guillot, political science professor and director of the Global Generations Institute at Long Island University.

"Ultimately, Hillary Clinton's problem isn't her personal issues, or her husband's," he continued. "America has elected deeply flawed candidates before. It's also not that she happens to be a woman, as the country has proven capable of electing ethnic and religious minorities before."

Instead, he argued:

Clinton's problem is simple: She isn't relatable and has trouble making a genuine connection with voters. In both her 2008 and 2016 campaigns, she has been perceived by the electorate as stiff, imperial and unapproachable. Even hardened Clinton supporters couldn't picture themselves engaging in a casual discussion with her. In 1992 and 2008, America fell in love with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama respectively because they could see both candidates showing up to their house with a case of beer and a plate of nachos.

But Andrea Dew Steele, president of Emerge America, a group that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, says Clinton's losses show the old boys' club is alive and well and still running the country because many Americans "simply aren't ready to accept a strong, capable female leader."

She said:

It's an age-old tale. The qualified, hardworking woman loses out on the job she deserves to man who didn't even bother to prepare for the interview. We expect so much more from female politicians. Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person — not just woman, but person — to run for president in modern history. And she lost. Of course gender is at play.

"Though so many Americans are eager for a female president, it's also undeniable that Secretary Clinton's gender hurt her this time around. Donald Trump's blatant misogyny, and the Republicans who stood idly by without speaking up against him, made it absolutely clear that sexism is still rampant in the United States."

Possession of two X chromosomes or an admitted problem with connecting with voters in a personal way are unlikely the only things that kept Clinton from the White House.

Andrew Harnik/AP

Her critics questioned whether she would have had any shot at the Oval Office if her husband had not occupied it first. When she became New York's junior senator, Clinton detractors called her a carpetbagger who overpromised and underdelivered.

While she played up her experience as secretary of state, opponents denigrated her tenure there, saying she was culpable in the deaths of American diplomatic officials in Benghazi and had imperiled national security by using a private email server, although she has not faced charges as a result of an FBI investigation.

Hillary Clinton was never seen as the perfect candidate.

Her loss to Obama was surely painful; that she fell this time to a rival like Donald Trump, a man who's been questioned on everything from his business acumen to his talk about and treatment of women to whether he's fit for the presidency surely makes this defeat that much harder for her to stomach.